CicLAvia: Heart of LA (2017)

CicLAvia returned to Downtown LA for its October edition. At first I was a little unenthused about returning to Downtown LA, but then I learned that this year’s Heart of LA route had a new hub, Echo Park, which I was excited to explore.

It turned out to be a solo event for me, but I was totally okay with that. Going alone allows me to do whatever I please, whenever I please, without complaints, which is a situation I rarely encounter. And, there are actually a lot of other solo riders at these events. It’s a great opportunity to connect with new people. You feel like you’re part of a greater community. Everyone is there for the same reason – to take advantage of the open streets and explore the city from a different vantage point.

Being able to take Metro Rail’s Expo Line to Downtown LA made this an easy event for me to attend. What was tricky this time was that a football game was happening at the Coliseum that afternoon as well, and the train car got really packed with passengers. Having a bike onboard was awkward and difficult. But once all the football fans got off at USC, the cyclists could relax for the rest of the ride.

At the end of the line, I surfaced from the Metro station and made my way to Broadway Hub where I joined the route. This area has the feel of a typical downtown city with buildings side-by-side along the street, but riding gives you a chance to look more closely at the buildings. There are some interesting architectural details and public art along the way.

Once I got to the main intersection of the route and headed out towards Echo Park Hub, that downtown feel quickly subsided. About 1 1/2 miles later I was at Echo Park Lake. I was so surprised and fascinated by this area. It is such a big and serene green space so close to Downtown LA.

I parked my bike and began to walk along a path that circles the lake. It was very peaceful despite all the CicLAvia participants and the regular folks who were there just enjoying the park. At first glance, I saw the fountain in the middle of the lake and the paddle boats and boat house at the edge of the lake. But exploring more closely, I noticed water lily beds throughout the lake, lotus plants at one end of the lake, and a lush wetlands habitat full of wildlife. Looking even more closely, I saw fish, turtles, and a variety of birds.

There was even a cute looking cafe in the boat house, Beacon. It boasts “a chef-driven menu with good-for-you ingredients.” I’ve put it on my list of outdoor restaurants to bring my parents to the next time they’re in town. And I’ll also have to come back at the right time to catch the lotus flowers in bloom. Apparently, this year’s bloom in June was pretty spectacular.

After exploring the park and enjoying lunch from Cousins Maine Lobster food truck, it was time to move on. Next up was Chinatown, but not until I had ridden through 2nd Street Tunnel again. This turned out to be a fun “attraction” for all ages. Adults let their inner child loose while riding through, and there was lots of howling, hollering, and whistling.

I have been to Chinatown before but not by bike, so this stretch I did more to just have done than anything. It was a relatively quick visit.

Finally, I made my way out to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on the east side of the Los Angeles River. This was a new destination for me as well. To get there, we rode through the Arts District with its many wall murals and over the 4th Street Bridge.

After checking out Mariachi Plaza, enjoying some live music, and supporting the local farmer’s market, it was time to make my way back to Broadway Hub and the Metro station to head back home.

It was a full day of pedaling with lots of new sights and sounds along the way – 16 miles and 6 hours total – but one I’ll be eager to repeat next time around. I do believe this is becoming my favorite CicLAvia route. There is so much variety in where to go and what to see, and the riders are spread out on the three spokes so there’s a little more breathing room when riding. There will be no hesitation about returning to Downtown LA next time CicLAvia happens there.

CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire Boulevard (2016)

Another CicLAvia is in the books for me, my fifth one. It was a ride along Wilshire Boulevard starting in Downtown LA and going to Koreatown. I was actually considering not doing this ride because it was a partial repeat of a previous route I had already done, but then Doobie expressed interest in joining me and how could I resist that?

The first Iconic Wilshire Boulevard ride in 2014 was quite the city adventure on wheels for me. This one turned out to be much more relaxing. I really enjoyed the experience and am so glad I took advantage of the event and that Doobie joined me.

One Wilshire Hub

One Wilshire Hub

Now with the Metro Expo Line extended through our neighborhood, we had easy access to Downtown LA and we were at One Wilshire Hub in no time. Our biggest challenge was getting the bikes up from the underground station. We missed the elevator and Doobie had a little trouble holding on to his bike on the busy escalators. But it all worked out with the help of friendly and helpful fellow commuters.

CicLAvia Wilshire routemap

Since I had already done this route (although the 2014 version was about twice as long), I did not really have any particular plans, unlike CicLAvia: Heart of LA (2015)  when I had a whole wishlist of places I wanted to see and visit. This time, I just wanted to enjoy and take advantage of the open streets (and hopefully find one geocache that was along the route, a new one since my last ride there).

Doobie, however, had an agenda. He wanted to hunt Pokémon, stop at PokéStops and Gyms, and hatch eggs. I was totally okay with that. It would give me ample time to people watch and take in the whole atmosphere of the event. On their website, CicLAvia even had a list of the 56 PokéStops along the route with a reminder to be mindful and not to stop in the middle of the route. Continue reading

CicLAvia: Heart of LA (2015)

Last month I completed another successful and fulfilling CicLAvia experience. It was my fourth one, and each one has always been such a different and unique experience. I’ve gone through various iterations of family joining me: 6-year-old Doobie the first time in 2013, me alone the second time in 2014, the whole family the third time earlier this year, but it was just 11-year-old Sonny and me for this experience.
MacArthur Park SpheresOn October 18, 2015, CicLAvia celebrated its 5th anniversary with CicLAvia: Heart of LA, a route in Downtown LA. I studied up on the route so I wouldn’t miss anything of interest and had a great plan for the day. I had never planned and prepared so much for a CicLAvia experience as I did for this one, but it was such a new area for me to explore. Now that it’s over, I learned it was certainly helpful to have a general overview of how I hoped to proceed that day, but that an overly detailed plan was not necessary nor feasible and it’s just best to go with the flow.

CicLAvia Heart of LA mapOther than we didn’t get out as early as I would have liked since Sonny had been at a sleepover, all started well as we rode our bikes to the Metro Rail and took it to the end of the line downtown. We first headed out to MacArthur Park as planned and saw the The Spheres as I had wanted. They didn’t disappoint, but it was kind of an odd experience walking through the park—there was the energy and excitement of all the CicLAvia participants, but at the same time homeless people were going about their business as if nothing special was happening.

MacArthur Park More SpheresOur first stop at MacArthur Park was also where I realized all my plans would not work out as planned, in particular the geocaching ones. There were four geocaches in this area that I had wanted to search for. I quickly dropped two of them since they were on the opposite side of the park. We made half-hearted, unsuccessful attempts to find the other two; there were just too many “muggles” around to search without drawing too much attention to us. Sadly, I figured that would probably be the case for all, if not most, of the geocaches I had picked out along the route.

MacArthur Park HubBefore moving on, we checked out the many food trucks at MacArthur Park Hub. Sonny gave The Pudding Truck a try. The butterscotch pudding with brownie bites hit the spot before hitting the road again.

Pudding TruckOn the way towards Grand Park Hub, I had planned to stop by Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria, The Last Bookstore, and the Globe Lobby of the LA Times building to see their unique interiors, but they were all on the wrong side of the street and the flow of the bike traffic just carried us along past them. Same was the case for a couple of geocaches along the way as well. There was still the chance we might be able to check them out on the way back.

DowntownLABefore we knew it, we had reached Grand Park Hub. We continued on towards Little Tokyo, which was my next planned stop. On the outskirts of Little Tokyo, however, was a puzzle geocache I had prepared for and wanted to try if at all possible.

For this geocache, I had been given an old photo of City Hall from the 1950’s and had to figure out the spot from which the photo had been taken. The container would be in an “obvious spot” just a few feet from that location. If I had solved the puzzle correctly, ground zero was right along the route, too tempting to let pass by.

City Hall 1950s

Luckily, the spot was on our side of the street and it wasn’t busy. We were able to locate and make the grab easily😀. Interesting to see the differences and similarities in the area between then and now!

City Hall 2015We parked our bikes when we got to the historic district of Little Tokyo. It wasn’t an official hub, but it was very busy with people exploring the area. We took a little stroll in Japanese Village Plaza and felt like we were in Japan. We enjoyed a drumming demonstration outside the Japanese American National Museum. We even ventured a little beyond the crowds to the Go For Broke Memorial which commemorates Japanese Americans who served in the United States Military during World War II (where we also had a some time to ourselves and were able to search for a traditional geocache😀).

Little TokyoTime was quickly passing and Sonny was beginning to get a little impatient about all the time he’d already spent out on the streets with me. We got back on our bikes and pedaled through the Arts District, over 4th Street Bridge, and on towards Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights.

Art DistrictWe enjoyed lunch from a food truck at Hollenbeck Park. What struck me right away was how green the park was! These days, with the drought and cutbacks in watering, so much grass is usually brown, but not here for some reason.

Hollenbeck ParkRiding 4th Street Bridge was my favorite stretch of the day. There was something about riding on this historic bridge built in 1931—with its Gothic Revival details, over all the railroad tracks and cemented LA River underneath, with the openness and views of the mountains and city around us—that awed me. It was a popular place for cyclists to get off their bikes and admire their surroundings. And I loved that we got to ride it twice, once in each direction coming back and forth from Hollenbeck Park.

4th Str Bridge to Hollenbeck Park 6th Str Bridge4th Str Bridge to DTLAAfter lunch we pretty much peddled straight back to the downtown Metro stop to go back home. Sonny passed up a stop at a frozen yogurt place because he was eager to get home, but he did humor me with a quick stop right along the route near City Hall to take a picture of a sign post listing all the sister cities of Los Angeles. This was part of the requirement for a virtual geocache that I wanted to log (the other half was posting a picture from a visit to one of LA’s sister cities, which in our case was Athens, Greece😀).

Sister Cities GeocacheHe also agreed to stop at The Last Bookstore to get a glimpse of that. I enticed him with the promise of a book. We browsed the downstairs, in particular the vinyl records section (a cultural history lesson for Sonny!) and the children’s and young adults’ book sections, before we headed upstairs and walked through the labyrinth. It was a short but sweet visit, and we learned it’s worth another visit if we’re in the area.

The Last BookstoreAt the end of the day, we had cycled 13 ½ miles and been out from about 10am to 4pm. We had explored a great part of Downtown that until now had been unknown and unfamiliar to us. I can’t say I now know it like my own neighborhood, but I am certainly more interested and open to going back and revisiting and exploring some more. Downtown LA is no longer a big, unknown area to me. Now when I drive along the freeway past the high rises and surrounding areas, I’ll have a new understanding and appreciation for the area. I’m always looking for new activities to do with my family when they visit. Now I can put some places in Downtown LA on our list.

For those interested in participating in a future CicLAvia, there are two events coming up in the next few months. The first one is CicLAvia: The Valley on March 6, 2016, and the next one is CicLAvia: Southeast Cities on May 15, 2016. Are you tempted to mark either of those on your calendar? I hope to be able to do the Southeast Cities one.

Wishlist for CicLAvia: Heart of LA

CicLAvias have become one of my favorite LA events. I’ve participated in three and am eagerly looking forward to the next one which is around the corner. CicLAvia is an opportunity to venture out and explore neighborhoods on streets that are totally closed to traffic. It also provides the perfect playground for another of my favorite activities, geocaching. Bicycling is my preferred way to experience CicLAvia, but you can also participate by foot or in any other non-motorized way. CicLAvias are fun urban adventures in our own backyard with an amazingly diverse group of people from all over the city.

CicLAvia Heart of LA mapThe next CicLAvia is on Sunday, October 18, and will take place in downtown LA, in the heart of LA. It will go through many varied and distinct districts: Historic Core, Civic Center, Little Tokyo, the Arts District and as far west as MacArthur Park and east as Boyle Heights.

MacArthur Park at CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire (April 2014)

MacArthur Park at CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire (April 2014)

Some of those areas I’ve been to before. For example, at CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire I rode through MacArthur Park, I’ve taken visiting family to Chinatown, and I’ve been to the Civic Center area for visa and citizenship appointments. But others, such as the Arts District, Historic Core, Little Tokyo, and Boyle Heights, I could hardly place on the map until I looked more closely at downtown LA in preparation for this CicLAvia.

I’m putting together a little wishlist of sorts to make sure I don’t miss any fun and unique experiences and sights on the day of the event. As I know from my experiences at previous CicLAvias, the best laid plans often go awry, but planning is half the fun.

As of right now, it looks like it will be Sonny and me heading out together on this adventure. He hasn’t quite yet committed to joining me. He wants to know the plan, in particular the start and end time, so this blog post is my way of letting him know exactly what will be on our agenda for the day. And I’ve promised him perks, though exactly what those perks will be I will determine on the day of CicLAvia.

My plan is for us to get an early start and ride our bikes from our home to Expo Line’s Culver City stop and take the Metro rail to 7th Street/Metro Center. This will be an adventure for us in and of itself since we’re not big users of public transportation in our city.

First on my wishlist is to see The Spheres at MacArthur Park. It’s a public art installation of 2,500 large, colorful spheres in the lake. They were installed back in August and the display was extended at the end of September so they would be here for CicLAvia. I wanted to see these spheres when I first read about them, but I didn’t make it out there so I’m very happy they’ll be around for CicLAvia.

The Spheres at MacArthur Park (Photo Credit: LA Times)

Next on my wishlist is to see some unique interiors hidden along the route. From the outside, these places may not attract much attention, but inside it seems like they will be truly special. The first two establishments are in the Historic Core. I recently read about the reopening of Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria (originally opened in 1935) after a $10 million renovation. According to CicLAvia’s Neighborhood Guide, it’s “an iconic part of downtown and a little slice of kitsch heaven, featuring a full-blown forest inside complete with a waterfall and stream”. I’ve also heard about and seen cool pictures of The Last Bookstore and actually didn’t realize it was downtown until now. The third interior I wish to view is the Globe Lobby in the LA Times Building. There will be public tours to view the 10-foot-high murals painted in 1934 along with a 5 ½ foot rotating globe and a historical exhibit showcasing the first 100 years of The Times. I’m eager to get a peek at these special interiors with my own eyes.

Next I look forward to my first visit to Little Tokyo. There seem to be many landmarks worth visiting, such as 1st Street Historic District, the Go For Broke Memorial, Japanese American National Museum, and many Buddhist temples. And apparently, there are quite a few wonderful eateries as well. I’m sure Sonny will love some mochi.

Following that is the Arts District which is another new area to me. I had to look it up to find its location. I learned it’s an area of formerly abandoned industrial buildings and warehouses that has become popular with young professionals in creative industries. I have two wishes as we cycle through the Arts District: to see the building used as the exterior of the friends’ loft apartment on the TV show New Girl (Binford Building at 836 Traction Avenue) and hopefully see some cool street art along the route.

Then it’s time to cycle across the LA River on the 4th Street Bridge. From that bridge we’ll have a view of the 6th Street Viaduct built in 1932. It is one of LA’s iconic landmarks with its “graceful Classical Moderne design and sweeping, riveted steel arches” (CicLAvia’s Neighborhood Guide). Sadly, it is due to be demolished soon because of structural weaknesses and the likelihood of collapse in an earthquake. It will be nice to get a firsthand view of it before it goes.

6th Street Viaduct (Photo Credit: LA Conservancy)

6th Street Viaduct (Photo Credit: LA Conservancy)

My goal for the day is to make it to Boyle Heights and to check out Hollenbeck Park with its manmade lake. This area is one of CicLAvia’s four hubs so there will be plenty of activities and action.  Maybe while we’re there we’ll experience the LA Phil’s VAN Beethoven, a virtual reality performance featuring the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony performed by the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel. Or maybe we’ll create handcrafted paper flowers for use on our bikes at the Dia de los Muertos Paper Flower Workshop. And then there will be the food trucks to nourish us before we begin our journey back to the Metro rail stop where we arrived.

Logo_Geocaching_4squares_BlackDuring this whole write-up of what I wish to do at CicLAvia, I have not yet mentioned the many opportunities for geocaching! And that is high on my list of things to do as well. I have made a list of all geocaches that are within half a block of the CicLAvia route. There are 15—4 around MacArthur Park, 5 in the Civic Center and Little Tokyo area, 3 east of the LA River, and 3 towards Chinatown. Two of them are virtual geocaches so there’s no physical cache to actually find; we just have to find specific locations and complete the respective requirements. Another is a puzzle geocache, which in this case means we have to figure out and locate the spot from which an old photograph was taken and then find the cache at that location. Of course there are many, many more geocaches in the downtown area, but in an attempt to be realistic and somewhat successful, I’m sticking to the ones that are more or less right along the route. My list can be found here for those interested.

As much as I would like to cover the whole route, I don’t think we’ll make it to Chinatown with all that I have planned so far. I left Chinatown off my wishlist since both Sonny and I have been there before. However, it would be great if we could stop by Grand Park on our way back since that’s an unfamiliar space to me. It’s going to be a full day of all sorts of sights and activities. I’m eager to see what Sonny and I will actually be able to accomplish and what wishes I’ll be able to check off my list. Stay tuned…

CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire Boulevard (2014)

A City Adventure on Wheels

About a year ago I rode in my first CicLAvia event. We had planned for it to be a whole family excursion, but instead it became just a Doobie and Mommy outing. Since then I’ve looked forward to the whole family participating in the next one. Our next opportunity came around not long ago, Iconic Wilshire Boulevard on April 6.

CicLAvia Iconic Wilshire Blvd Route

But due to various circumstances, I ended up going solo. After the initial disappointment of having to go alone, I actually looked forward to it since I would only have to worry about myself and I could do exactly what I wanted and spend as much time doing it as I pleased. I was going to make this a city adventure like I’d never had before!

The first part of my adventure was using the Metro Rail line near our neighborhood for the first time. The Expo Line’s last stop was only a few minutes’ bike ride from our home, and the line went directly to the start of the route Downtown. It was a no-brainer to ride the Metro, but I had no idea about the logistics of using it, especially with a bike. However, I’ve used public transportation in other major cities and felt confident that I could figure it out here, too. It turns out there was no need to worry. At the station, there were extra attendants on duty to help us newbies with buying TAP cards and figuring out fares. I didn’t even have a chance to wonder where to start.

Wilshire One Hub Beginning

When I surfaced from the underground station Downtown, I was immediately surrounded by cyclists. Continue reading

Kids 4 Kids Run/Walk

At the start line for the Kids 4 Kids Run/Walk

In the Los Angeles area, there are many opportunities for athletes to participate in races of all kinds, ranging from 5K’s to marathons all for a variety of causes. Until recently, it had never crossed my mind to take part in one.  This past weekend, though, Sonny and I participated in the Kids 4 Kids 5K Run/Walk.  The run/walk and its beneficiary, the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, were both founded by a past parent at Sonny’s school so current families are always strongly encouraged to participate. We seized the opportunity to try something new and at the same time do some good for the community and signed up with other school friends.

I assumed we’d be doing more walking than running during the 5K.  I have been running regularly and knew that I could run 5K without too much of a problem, but we’ve never thought of Sonny as a kid with much endurance.  He’s never run anywhere near 5K.  When Sonny and a friend sprinted off at the beginning, dodging people as they sped ahead, I figured for sure we’d be walking in a few hundred yards.  At one point, they slowed down.  His friend started walking, but Sonny kept running, and running, and running.  I totally lost him ahead of me, despite his bright orange shirt.  He was ahead of me the whole time.  I caught a glimpse of him and cheered him on as he passed me after turning at the half-way point.

That’s Sonny in the orange shirt running by himself!

When we neared the 3-mile mark, I caught up to him.  He thought I had cheated and cut the course.  He was still running but complained his legs hurt.  I said we could walk if he really needed to but that we were really close to the end now.  At this point, though, I didn’t want to walk since I had made it this far, but I had to remember this was supposed to be fun for him and it wasn’t supposed to be about me.  He didn’t start walking.  He said he couldn’t walk because his legs couldn’t stop running.  So we continued running, but he wanted to hold my hand.

As we neared the end, our school’s cheer squad cheered us on.  Then Sonny heard them cheering on a friend and his family right behind us, so Sonny picked up the pace and he and his friend had a race to the end.  Sonny was proud to beat him by 8 seconds.  He deserved that super large Laffy Taffy candy that was in his finish line goody bag.

Relieved and proud to have made it to the finish line

Daddy and Doobie met us at the finish line and joined us for the carnival fun afterwards.  There were games and rides and live music.  In every direction we turned, we saw families from our school, along with many more families from all over the area.  It truly was a kids for kids event.

Leading up to the race, we were able to raise $1015 from friends and family for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.  The money goes to pediatric cancer research and arts and crafts supplies for Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps for children with serious illnesses.  It felt really special to know that so many people were supporting us in this endeavor to help raise money for such a good cause.  It was a very fulfilling and exciting experience and might even have inspired us to participate in other such events.